The early 17th century witnessed increased rise in English hegemony over Ireland and the defeat of the Gaelic nobility, culminating in the “Flight of the Earls,” in which leading members among the Irish nobility left Ireland to settle in Spain and France. The period also witnessed the decline of the professional bard as a household poet. A number of poems from this era lament the flight of the Gaelic nobility, the decline of the poet’s role in society, and the decline of the poetic tradition and profession.
Today’s poem is by Mathghamhain O Hifearnain. From the New Oxford Book of Irish Verse, Thomas Kinsella, editor and translator.
I ask, who will buy a poem?
It holds right thoughts of scholars.
Who needs it? Will anyone take it?
A fine poem to make him immortal.
A poem of close-knit skill,
I have walked all Munster with it
from market cross to cross
for a year, and I’m no better off.
Not a man or a woman would give me
down-payment, no tiniest groat.
And no one would tell me why
—ignored by Gael and stranger.
What use is a craft like this,
a shame though it has to die?
Making combs would earn more honour.
Why would anyone take to verse.
Corc of Cashel is dead, and Cian,
who horded no cattle or cash,
men happy to pay their poets.
So goodbye to the seed of Éibhear.
They kept the palm for giving
until Cobhthach was lost, and Tál.
Many I leave unmentioned
that I might have made poems for still.
I’m a ship with a ruined cargo
now the famous Fitzgeralds are gone.
No answer. A terrible case.
It is all in vain that I ask.